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Graffiti artists leave marks around townTell North Platte what you think
Photo by George Lauby
High on a wall on East 8th St.
Photo by Tracy Wofford
Tribute to Kaw, nationally known gaffiti artist
Photo by Tracy Wofford
Dawin's fish
Photo by Tracy Wofford
East Side Locos mark
Photo by Tracy Wofford
Anarchy, only way
Photo by Tracy Wofford
Fly on the wall
Photo by Tracy Wofford
High on an alleyway off downtown
Photo by George Lauby
Near downtown
Photo by George Lauby
Photo by George Lauby

Look close. It’s there, below and beyond the confines and canvases of conventional art.

Displayed in very public places, graffiti is intriguing. It is often created with block letters that take fantastic shapes, bending standards -- difficult to read but legible to those who study it.

Graffiti occurs more often than one might think. It might reflect the boredom of teenagers, but it is rooted in deeper meanings.

The messages may be impossible for the general public to understand, but officials say graffiti marks gang territories, making threats, advertising for drugs and commemorating the dead.

Gang names such as “crips” and “bloods” can be found around North Platte, along with an occasional date and “4:20,” a reference to marijuana.

There are also symbols for peace and for anarchy.

Whether intricate or crude, gaffiti has meaning.

According to the website “gangsorus.com,” graffiti is often the obvious indication of gangs, widespread drugs and routine violence.

And also, some people often make the marks just for play, attracted by the art and intrigue, so it looks like something sinister is happening.

Tracy Wofford, a Lincoln County Detention Officer, is a student of graffiti. As she looked around North Platte with the Bulletin, she expressed mild surprise by the number of marks, which are mostly found on the north side of town, in old business and industrial areas along 7th St.

Wofford also found a significant amount of graffiti-related art in alleys near downtown, both freehand and stenciled, which is not obviously gang related.

Graffiti is the exception rather than the rule in North Platte. It is commonly the work of fun seekers, not gangs. Sheriff Jerome Kramer said he’s found no need to have a dedicated gang/graffiti deputy in the sheriff's office.

Worst cases

Technically, although not all graffiti is gang related, graffiti is like a newspaper or billboard for street gangs.

Graffiti by gangs is primarily functional, and is generally the most legible. It indicates the gang’s power and status, it marks boundaries and serves as a warning to other gangs of the “turf” of a particular gang.

Not all young men who slouch around wearing baggy pants and looking surly are gang members. Not all graffiti is gang related, nor does it necessarily mean that your neighborhood is unsafe.

There are graffiti artists who view themselves as just that – artists.

Even in LA.

“They look at it as art,” said Brandon Barron, an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Newton Division. He works on the division’s Gang Enforcement Detail. “They look at it as art and they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. They’re throwing it up there because they want people to see their artistic side.”

Artistic graffiti tends to be more elaborate, less readable and more inspirational.

There are lots of examples on railcars in Bailey Yard, as well as an occasional wall of a North Platte back alley.


Another type of grafitti is tagging. There’s no rule or artistic flow to it, it is just a name. Usually what will happen is the tagger writes their crew, their gang, and then their name or street name, according to Officer Barron.

There are hundreds of examples of tags on any given day in Bailey Yard. Railcars have become rolling canvases for artists as well as taggers. Car numbers are linked to specific artists and posted on Internet sites for fans and other artists to see.

Gangs tend to write more plainly, marking territory with their gang name, or a symbol thereof, such as Crips or Bloods.

Another officer in the Newton, Calif. gang unit, Jonathan Rocha said, “You can actually read the gang member stuff and that’s what they want. Not necessarily their monikers or what they call themselves, but say for example the Loco Park gang — they’ll actually put an obvious L and P for Loco Park or actually write out Loco Park so people know it’s that gang’s area.”

“Most guys do it just to let other people know that it’s our neighborhood,” a south LA gang member said on the website, OnCentral.com.“Graffiti is a visual notice of gang turf wars."

Graffiti is most provocative when individuals or gangs write over another gang’s markings and tagging in another gang’s territory is a sign of ultimate disrespect.

"It’s like me going to your house and stepping all over your couch," a gang member said.

Danger sign

If left intact, graffiti leads to the degradation of a neighborhood and the devaluation of property, officials say. Studies have shown in many cases that if left unchecked and not removed, more and more graffiti will appear. It is costly to remove and some cities have developed grafitti removal programs, spending large sums of money.

Many cities or towns have seen the need to pass laws and penalties to deal directly with perpetrators. After all, it is vandalism and the ultimate goal is to stop it.

But in North Platte, young men who like the art say they don't see much gang activity.

“I don’t think gangs are active at all in town,” said Adam MacDonald, 21, of North Platte. “In bigger cities they mark territories, but not here. I think marks in North Platte are basically just people screwing around.”

First published in the Dec. 12 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 12/29/2012
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